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Validation and market uptake of a natural disinfection whey-based formula for whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WHEYCOM (Validation and market uptake of a natural disinfection whey-based formula for whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2017-07-31

Disinfection is one of the most important processing steps affecting the quality and safety and the shelf-life of the end product in fresh-cut processing. Chlorine-based chemicals, particularly liquid chlorine and sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), are the most widely used disinfectants in fresh-cut industry. The chlorine-based disinfectants pose health risks since they can react with organic matter in water and form trihalomethanes as by-products, which are carcinogenic compounds. This can be harmful to both humans and the rest of biota in water environments
On the other hand, quality maintenance of fresh produce is still a major challenge for the food industry. Minimal processing of F&V leads to a faster physiological deterioration as well as biochemical changes and microbial degradation of the produce. In recent years, it has been observed a growing interest in the use of natural products for the preservation of whole and minimally-processed. An increasing demand for natural preservatives and antimicrobial compounds has been observed among European consumers. The industry of minimally processed F&V is aware of consumer trends and is seeking for alternatives to chlorine. In this sense the cheese whey, an abundant by-product from cheese factories, has shown antimicrobial properties. For each kilogram of cheese about 9 kilograms of whey are generated and current whey processing systems are not economically viable for most SMEs. The main options in this case are either sending whey to cattle farms for animal feed or sending it to whey processor companies. These alternatives do not provide profits to SMEs in the cheese industry.
WHEYCOM offers a whey-based formula healthier and more sustainable than chlorine-based disinfectants, giving at the same time a solution to the great amount of underused whey generated in cheese factories through its valorization into and added-value sanitizer for F&V.
Period 2 (1st August 2016 – 31st July 2017):
Pilot trials: During the second period of the project the whey batches with better results on antimicrobial activity according to the tests conducted by CTIC-CITA were tested at CAMPOTEC´s facilities on onion, carrot, tomato, apple, cabbage and lettuce to test the efficacy of the WHEYCOM formula in a simulated real environment.
Scale-up studies: A techno-economic assessment for scaling-up purposes of the WHEYCOM formula was carried out. Production conditions as well as material, equipment and human resources required for sanitizer production at industrial scale were established.
Demonstration agreements and Execution of demonstrators: AGF identified possible potential clients by three means: 1) searching in database of F&V companies, 2) through its current clients and 3) attending international trade fairs of the F&V sector.
A Final Product Specification was provided based on the results obtained in the demonstrations of the effectivity of the WHEYCOM formulas conducted.
Production Plan: In this second period AGF has established the planning of the production of the WHEYCOM formula at ISANATUR´s facilities. The raw materials and equipments required, as well as the timing planned and the protocol for delivery of the product to the client were defined.
Technology Watch: An update of the Technology Watch conducted in the first period is tackled in this second period. This contains the state-of-the-art of F&V sanitizing technologies based on literature review, relevant publications, the most recent patents, trade shows and conferences, funded European projects in the scope of the project and a review of legislation concerning food sanitizers.
Intellectual protection: After studying in the period 1 the different available options to protect Intellectual Property (IP) resulting from WHEYCOM, AGF decided to request a Patent Technology Report to the Oficina Española de Patentes y Marcas (OEPM) for assessing the patentability of the WHEYCOM formula invention.
Business Plan: A Business Plan was conducted for detecting the market opportunity of the WHEYCOM product and estimating expected costs and revenues. The strategy for the Exploitation of the project results was established.
Marketing activities. The following dissemination activities were conducted in order to put into place the marketing strategy stated: On February 22th 2017 and March 30th 2017 AGF attended an Innovation Day organized by CONTACTICA and celebrated in Navarra and Zaragoza, where AGF presented the WHEYCOM project. On October 5th to 7th 2016, AGF attended the trade fair Fruit Attraction. AGF also attended the 2017 edition of the trade fair Macfrut, held in May 10 -12th at Rimini Fiera (Italy). On May 22th 2017, the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo” published an interview given by Rodrigo Casas from AGF for a special supplement on agricultural innovation.
The expected impact and advance of our innovative whey-based solution is as follows:
- Environmental friendly and sustainable: Due to the main raw material of the new sanitizer is a cheese waste, the amount of waste coming from this industry is reduced, minimizing its environmental concerns and gaining a profit from it. We are improving the efficiency in the use of raw materials, through sustainable circular economy.
- Morehealthy: With the use of WHEYCOM sanitizer, harmful by-products are not formed in contact to organic matter making our solution more healthy than current chlorine-based disinfectants.
- Added value: Novel natural preservative to be used as a food additive with a sanitation purpose. The idea of a new product must provide added-value to the customer in order to displace competitors. In this respect our innovative solution is a whey-based product that works both, as a sanitizing agent and a natural preservative for F&V due to its antioxidant properties. F&V play an important role in healthy nutrition and are high on the list of consumer priorities. However the major obstacle of purchasing ready-to-eat fresh-cut F&V is their short shelf life, leading to quick degeneration and decomposition of the product and undesirable look and negative palatability. Our sanitizer will extend the F&V self-life.
- Anticipation for future legal requirements: Future regulatory restrictions on the use of chlorine are likely. In some European countries, including Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium the use of chorine in ready-to-use products is prohibited. Therefore, an alternative treatment as a whey-based sanitizer to reduce pathogens from F&V, will allow F&V postharvest treatment companies to adjust to the future requirements easily.
- Less security measures are required: Unlike chlorine-based chemicals, there is no risk associated to spills or leaks during the handling of our sanitizer. The main component is whey, a natural substance harmless to human health and environment.
- Constant availability of raw material: The main raw material of our sanitizer is cheese whey, so suppliers of this raw material will be companies in the cheese industry. Unlike what occurs with other kind of raw materials provided by some few large distributors, cheese industry is fragmented. This will ensure a continuous supply of whey.